Voter suppression: FL voting rights groups want corporations to follow denouncements with action

Polling places in Leon County ahead of the 2020 primaries. Credit: Issac Morgan

Voting-rights advocates in Florida took heart this week from powerful public statements issued by giant corporations condemning efforts to restrict voting in nearly every state in the nation. But they want the corporations to follow up with concrete actions that put down what the advocates call a national wave of voter-suppression efforts.

“In terms of the work being done in Florida, we haven’t seen any corporations speaking on [voting rights],” said Jamil Davis, Florida lead organizer for Black Voters Matters, in an interview. “Where do they stand on protecting voting rights for all people?”

The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy organization, cited 361 voting-restriction bills active in 47 states, including Florida, as of March 24, including 108 filed since Feb. 19.

In direct response to voting-law changes pushed by Republican state lawmakers, corporations such as AT&T and Microsoft issued statements calling for greater access to voting, not less.

Others include American Airlines, Coca-Cola, Dell, Delta, and Southwest Airlines, which issued statements on their websites and via social media.

Business Roundtable, an association of corporate CEOs, set the tone Wednesday with this public statement:

“The right to vote is the essence of a democratic society, and the voice of every voter should be heard in fair elections that are conducted with integrity. Unnecessary restrictions on the right to vote strike at the heart of representative government. Business Roundtable members believe state laws must safeguard and guarantee the right to vote.

“… We call on elected officials across the country to commit to bipartisan efforts to provide greater access to voting and encourage broad voter participation.”

Dell and others specifically referenced minority voting, disproportionately harmed by the proposed voting restrictions.

“Free, fair, equitable access to voting is the foundation of American democracy. Those rights — especially for women, communities of color — have been hard-earned. Governments should ensure citizens have their voices heard. HB6 [in Texas] does the opposite, and we are opposed to it,” said Dell CEO Michael Dell in a tweet Thursday.

Davis noted the statements by Delta and Coca-Cola, both based in Georgia, came after that state’s lawmakers adopted new voting restrictions, not during legislative debate when Black Voters Matter asked for them.

Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, and Brad Ashwell, Florida director of All Voting is Local, told the Phoenix Friday the corporations are right to oppose voting restrictions that affect their employees, their customers, and democracy itself — and they need to do more than say so.

“Now’s the time for corporations to speak up — loudly and clearly and definitively,” Ashwell said. “Now’s the time for them to stand up against these bills … that are blatantly racist.”

Davis, Ashwell and Brigham said they want Florida corporations to follow suit.

“That’s going to start happening on these Florida bills,” Brigham said. “It would be great if corporations like Disney come out against these terrible, anti-voter bills.”

Brigham said the League of Women Voters of Florida launched an “action alert” Friday afternoon urging its supporters and partners to go all out to make their support for voting rights known to state legislators.

“Every voice matters,” Brigham said, adding, “The ultimate form of protest will be the ballot box.”

The voting rights advocates said corporations should prove their sincerity by publicly supporting passage of congressional House Resolution 1, the “For The People Act of 2021,” adopted in the U.S. House of Representatives and pending in the Senate. HR 1 would protect voting rights and access across the nation and preempt restrictive state laws.

In Florida, Republican-led election changes would restrict mail-in balloting, curtail or eliminate use of ballot drop boxes, and outlaw use of out-of-state funding to promote voting, among other things.

Unlike reforms adopted in Georgia and sponsored elsewhere, Florida’s proposed election reforms do not aim to curtail early voting.

In Florida, the African American tradition of mass voting on the Sunday before the general election — “Souls to the Polls” — brought out more Democratic voters than Republicans, but in early voting overall, GOP voters outnumbered Democrats, according to statistics provided by America Votes, a progressive, non-profit, voting-rights organization.

Proponents of reforms in Florida — led by Sen. Dennis Baxley, Sen. Joe Gruters, and Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, all Republicans — insist they want to tighten up on election laws to boost voter confidence in the results. They have repeatedly acknowledged in legislative hearings that Florida voting laws in 2020 resulted in accurate and efficient elections despite challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, unprecedented levels of mail-in balloting, and an obstructive slowdown in U.S. postal deliveries. Still, unproven allegations of wrongdoing were perpetuated.

“I don’t know of widespread complaints. … Why wait for a debacle?” said Sen. Baxley, in defense of his election reform bill in a recent Senate committee hearing. “I think this is a great step in the right direction,” said Sen. Gruters, chair of the Republican Party of Florida, also during a Senate debate.

Rep. Ingoglia, former state Republican Party chairman, says county election supervisors (who are nonpartisan officials but represent a range of political affiliations as registered voters themselves) exercised too much discretion in conducting the 2020 elections. He wants to tighten the reins, including fining supervisors $25,000 if they do not manually monitor ballot drop boxes at all times.

“They were overly flippant,” Ingoglia told fellow lawmakers in a Florida House committee meeting.

Former state Sen. Alan Hays, a Republican who now is supervisor of elections for Lake County, testified to a Senate committee that elections supervisors around the state oppose the removal of drop boxes and all other efforts to make voting by mail less convenient in Florida. He said the bills impose operational and financial hardships and restrict access to voting for no apparent reason.